Definition of fumble in English:



  • 1 Use the hands clumsily while doing or handling something.

    ‘she fumbled with the lock’
    • ‘I stifled a yawn as I fumbled with the key, finally sticking it in correctly and turning the lock.’
    • ‘He reached his door and pulled out his key and fumbled with the lock.’
    • ‘‘I should have put more planning into my plan’ said Mauritania as Jess tried fumbled with keys in the infinite number of locks on the door.’
    • ‘Walking like a drunkard, Elizabeth made her way to her door and fumbled with the lock on the doorknob while vaguely wondering why the heck it was locked in the first place.’
    • ‘He fumbled with the truck keys, panicking, and started the truck.’
    • ‘I fumbled with my keys and then gave him a half-wave before I went inside my house.’
    • ‘It shouted something inaudible over the roar of flames and fumbled with the locks on my ankles.’
    • ‘He fumbled with his keys, and then slid as quickly as he could into the car, locking the doors securely.’
    • ‘Instead, I fumbled with the obvious lock, pushing it as hard as I could, and eventually, it budged.’
    • ‘The Head of House fumbled with a key code on a panel next to a mahogany door across the room.’
    • ‘Karmina and Elada were waiting as Lavada fumbled with the lock on her locker.’
    • ‘She fumbled with her keys, blinking to keep her eyes clear of the fogginess that had dared to creep upon her.’
    • ‘What a horrible night, she thought as she fumbled with the key in the door.’
    • ‘She waited as someone on the other side fumbled with the numerous locks.’
    • ‘Sharai grinned upon seeing me run out the door before, absentminded as I am; I ran back and fumbled with my keys to lock the door.’
    • ‘He reached the main door, and fumbled with his key.’
    • ‘He stopped before it while the guard fumbled with his keys.’
    • ‘I fumbled with my keys and cell phone, trying to start the car and call Kelli simultaneously.’
    • ‘Jason fumbled with his keys, laughing, until Bruce got impatient and took the keys away from him.’
    • ‘Without even looking up at her, the woman nodded and fumbled with her keys.’
    grope, feel about, search blindly, scrabble around, muddle around
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    1. 1.1fumble around/about Move clumsily in various directions using the hands to find one's way.
      ‘Greg fumbled around in the closet and found his black jacket’
      • ‘So much for greater cultural understanding when you're fumbling around with your Berlitz phrasebook while gesticulating wildly at your intended interlocutor.’
      • ‘She clumsily opened her book and fumbled around for her pen.’
      • ‘I was sitting in Panera Bread last night, fumbling around with proxies in an attempt to get around their ham-fisted network filtering.’
      • ‘Considering the outlandish wages paid, in a game of very little hardship, the least we should expect is entertainment, and not fumbling around like kids in the local park.’
      • ‘Also some of the buttons have a raised edge to help the visually impaired, but which are also handy when you're fumbling around for the pause button in the dark.’
      • ‘Before, you're mostly just fumbling around in the dark, hoping that nods of approval from editors reflect the attitude of the general literary audience, but not really having any idea.’
      • ‘Ian Mackintosh says that until there's some disclosure of non-material expenses the regulator is fumbling around in the dark when it comes to investigating this area.’
      • ‘The subhead says, ‘But most of us are still fumbling around in the information stone age.’’
      • ‘A White House official told me Friday night that, after fumbling around for days, practically every White House agency was getting involved in coping with Katrina.’
      • ‘Clumsily fumbling around in his personal possessions with fingers which had fallen half-asleep, the emissary produced a neatly rolled-up paper and handed it over to the scaly hand before him.’
      • ‘I mean, when I visit people I actually do know really well, I'm not opening cabinets, snooping around the bathroom, fumbling around in closets.’
      • ‘They're meant to be intuitive type of commands, not where you're not fumbling around trying to figure out what to say.’
      • ‘All at sea and like strangers fumbling around in the dark for the light switch, the City defence was so brittle it was a surprise the creaks couldn't be heard back in North Yorkshire.’
      • ‘This approach has led many to wonder if the apparent madness in the method is deliberate or if he is fumbling around aimlessly.’
      • ‘The morning after I flew back home for spring break, I found myself fumbling around the kitchen cabinets for breakfast food that didn't boast high-fiber content.’
      • ‘He sits bolt upright, his hand fumbling around for the reading glasses.’
      • ‘Still holding on to both the ledge and the beam, she moved one foot up and fumbled around trying to find a stepping ledge to use.’
      • ‘Clumsily, he fumbled around for tissues, but couldn't find any.’
      • ‘The first album came from confused young men in their late teenage years who were fumbling around in the dark for a career and a girlfriend.’
      • ‘Most of us have experienced a temporary loss of electricity and know the helpless feeling of fumbling around for a flashlight or matches and candles.’
      stumble, blunder, flounder, lumber, bumble, stagger, totter, lurch, move clumsily, move awkwardly
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    2. 1.2[with object] Use the hands clumsily to move (something) as specified.
      ‘she fumbled a cigarette from her bag’
      • ‘I found the door to my room and fumbled the keys out of my pocket.’
      • ‘After spending seventeen minutes in blackness, trying to fumble the lock of the cellar open, Jack Moore kicked the door open with a curse and began climbing the stairs.’
      • ‘‘Whatever,’ he mumbled, fumbling his pockets for his keys.’
      • ‘Throwing her Hello Kitty book bag on the passenger seat Lynette fumbled the key into the ignition.’
      • ‘I lost sight of him among the trees, but what I did see made me fumble my cigarette into my lap.’
      • ‘Phoenix fumbled a bit with the keys in his rush to get in, and it took a few seconds to get the door unlocked.’
      • ‘After returning from the airport, having said goodbye, I sat on the verandah and looked out at the night, fumbling a cigarette, its fire the only bright spot.’
      • ‘I noticed a no smoking sign hanging on the wall so I fumbled a cigarette out of the pack and lit it.’
      • ‘The street light gag, fumbling the cigarettes?’
      • ‘He fumbled the key into the padlock, his gaze warily watching one of the three remaining ants.’
      scrabble, fish, ferret, ferret about, ferret around, rummage, rummage about, rummage around, rummage round, root about, root around, feel, cast about, cast around, cast round, search, hunt, look
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    3. 1.3American Football [with object] Drop or lose control of (the ball), sometimes causing a turnover.
      ‘he seldom fumbled a ball’
      • ‘As he came searching for the ball after a fumbled corner, he wandered dangerously far from the safety of his goal, upending Fletcher in the process.’
      • ‘And when Yann Delaigue missed a handy chance on 31 minutes, followed by Michalak fumbling the restart, you could see it all going horribly wrong for the home team.’
      • ‘It was mystifying why he did not feel the need for gloves considering the wet conditions and he fumbled more ball than normal.’
      • ‘The ball fumbled from his hands and rolled away.’
      • ‘Woewodin has attracted his critics for sometimes losing his feet and fumbling the ball out in the open while being descended upon.’
      • ‘Reginald fumbled for the ball, but couldn't successfully retrieve it.’
      • ‘That would be a significant improvement over 2002, when the Texans fumbled 34 times and lost 14.’
      • ‘Heriot's looked lacklustre with countless fumbled balls and missed passes, while Boroughmuir were sharp and alert to every chance that came their way.’
      • ‘Joe Deane had as quiet a game as I've seen him play for Cork, fumbling for ball he would normally have snapped up.’
      • ‘And while they were fumbling passes, Munster were operating with a calm efficiency, with a composure their opponents just couldn't match.’
      • ‘Both sides displayed a lot of nerves in the opening half during which there was a lot of mishandling, balls dropped or fumbled and scoring opportunities squandered.’
      • ‘Granted a lot of ball was fumbled and dropped but at least the ball was at the right end of the pitch.’
      • ‘The home side, however, were unlucky, with few breaks coming their way, added to some poor kicking for touch and fumbled balls.’
      • ‘The Peebles pack was still exerting control on tight play, but when the ball was spun to the backs it was too often fumbled and dropped and moves invariably slowed down, or broke down.’
    4. 1.4[with object] (in other ball games) fail to catch or field (the ball, a pass, a shot, etc.) cleanly.
      • ‘Green, one of the top backs in the league, fumbled the ball seven times in the first nine games last year.’
      • ‘This newfound power decreases the chances of Plummer throwing an interception at the goal line or fumbling the ball at the worst possible moment.’
      • ‘It takes some skill to pull the pitch off because if you do it with any little bit of mistiming you will fumble the ball away.’
      • ‘He is used primarily as a blocker, but be is adept at getting open, catching the ball and not fumbling.’
      • ‘The Crigglestone fullback fumbled the ball allowing Neil Kennedy and Ian Barnes to get their hands on the ball at the same time just before the ball went dead.’
      • ‘The ball is fumbled, it comes loose, and the opposing team picks it up and runs - but a whistle has blown, negating the recovery and the return.’
      • ‘However, on first down our big fella fumbles the ball and it bounces right into the hands of one of the players on the other team.’
      • ‘Under no pressure whatsoever, Kalac catches an easy ball, then fumbles it, falls on his knees and nearly pushes it into his own net with his nose, like a puppy.’
      • ‘Though the plan to give Henry a heavier workload is a good one, he must show he can consistently hang on to the ball after fumbling 11 times in 2002.’
      • ‘Vick finally escapes the pocket and fumbles the ball, but luckily for Atlanta it goes out of bounds.’
      • ‘Cody was much less productive, fumbling the ball at crucial times and finding his way into coach Dave McGinnis' doghouse.’
      • ‘The ball bounced in front of Scott Carson, who should have saved comfortably but could only fumble the ball over the line off his upper arm.’
      • ‘Instead, Curry fumbles the ball slightly, blowing the chance for a dunk.’
      • ‘But he must protect the ball better after fumbling 12 times last season.’
      • ‘The ball found its way to Aidan Kehoe but the corner forward fumbled it but the ball fell fortuitously to McGill who crashed it to the net.’
      • ‘Sometimes that philosophy gets Green in trouble because he fumbles the ball too much.’
      • ‘He made a grab for it and at the same time fell over the stumps, fumbled the ball and dropped it.’
      fail to catch, miss, drop, mishandle, handle awkwardly
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    5. 1.5 Express oneself or deal with something clumsily or nervously.
      ‘asked for explanations, Michael had fumbled for words’
      • ‘There was a moment in our conversation when both of us fumbled for words and fell into a brief, awkward silence.’
      • ‘It was fun because he kept fumbling over his words and finally, when he gathered his composure, invited me to a party and gave me a flyer.’
      • ‘The mayor, fumbling for words of succor at a press conference, had suggested that God's will was somehow behind those who got out alive.’
      • ‘‘They came back, they were back after me again,’ she spoke quickly and rapidly, fumbling for words over the choking of her tears.’
      • ‘He reached Lee's office, and inched inside, fumbling for words.’
      • ‘You looked into her eyes, your mouth fumbling for the words.’
      • ‘James asked, his speech fumbling over the words carefully.’
      • ‘Gazing at the floor with glossy eyes, the thunderous chant of his name still ringing in his ears, he fumbles for words to describe his euphoria.’
      • ‘Mimi nervously tugged at her shirt, and fumbled for words.’
      • ‘I felt a resigned smile tug at my lips as I watched him, still not calmed down from the moment we'd shared and fumbling for words.’
      • ‘Orion was fumbling for words to reply to her with.’
      • ‘But he did try his best, fumbling over his words.’
      • ‘Jay snuggled back down into his goose down pillows and picked up a tennis ball to ideally throw at the ceiling, then he looked at Chris who was still fumbling with his words.’
      • ‘Taking that as his cue to leave the kitchen before he fumbled over his words and messed things up more than they already were, he managed to leave with a small excuse for her to call him back.’
      • ‘She no longer is the same shy woman who fumbled for words when the sordid episode broke out.’
      • ‘Ayden, in another state of shock, fumbled to find words.’
      • ‘It was fun watching a seasoned politician almost fumbling for words at an apolitical function.’
      • ‘I've met some reasonably powerful people in the world, and there's usually an aura that is quite difficult to crack, and you fumble for your words.’
      • ‘We, fumbling for words of love, remember the rockets the spinning wheels, the sudden diamonds and say with delight ‘Yes, like that, like that’’
      • ‘I began fumbling for words to say in response, still struggling to get over the fact that Tristan was, indeed, a Gypsy.’
      botch, bungle, mismanage, mishandle, spoil
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  • 1[usually in singular] An act of using the hands clumsily while doing or handling something.

    ‘just one fumble during a tire change could separate the winners from the losers’
    • ‘Yeah, the instructions make it so simple that even a child can go through it confidently, without a falter nor a fumble.’
    1. 1.1American Football An act of dropping or losing control of the ball, sometimes causing a turnover.
      ‘his fumble was recovered on the 6-yard line’
      • ‘The team also has recovered three fumbles and won the turnover battle, 12-6, during that stretch.’
      • ‘Two minutes into the new half, Stoica fumbled Wood's grubber kick and with the referee playing advantage, O'Gara and Henderson punished them ruthlessly.’
      • ‘Vitally, however, Cosgrove fumbled a pass from Mulligan when there was the possibility of a game-saving goal.’
      • ‘Benn, who had switched to stand-off to replace the substituted Handley, and Mulholland worked an overlap down the left but McKenzie fumbled the pass.’
      • ‘Waters responded immediately with a teasing free from the right that left Purcell free and clear in front of goal, but the shot was fumbled and went wide.’
      • ‘But they fought hard and were unlucky not to equalise after Campbell fumbled an inswinging corner.’
      • ‘Latham was offered a golden opportunity to defuse this issue very early, but either he, or his chief flak Glenn Byres, fumbled it.’
      • ‘Then he lost four fumbles in the first two games.’
      • ‘Banks' biggest downside is that he commits too many turnovers - he has 62 career fumbles, including 43 lost.’
      • ‘Particularly goalkeeper Al - Deayea who exhibited the handling skills of a twice-convicted Riyadh shoplifter as he fumbled Duff's shot for the third goal.’
      • ‘Neither team did a good job taking care of the ball on offense as Redbank Valley had three fumbles, lost one and two Jason Smith interceptions.’
      • ‘Saints had a let-off after 23 minutes when Wilmot fumbled a header back from Derek Brown, but he gathered the ball at the second attempt.’
      • ‘Before he even threw a pass Sunday, he lost two fumbles on the Raiders' first two possessions, an opening that only echoed the dog of a performance Brooks put on last week at home against San Diego.’
      • ‘The player made it clear that he was referring not only to the lack of firepower in both teams but to his own side's display as they fussed and fumbled their way, often in an extremely disjointed way, through the game.’
      • ‘Barthez then fumbled a shot from Valeron but United went in at the break with the slightest of advantages.’
      • ‘But quarterback Aaron Brooks, who lost 11 fumbles, has become a lightning rod for criticism.’
      • ‘The Cardinals lost three fumbles inside the Falcons' 20 and four overall.’
      • ‘While the offense struggled to hold onto the ball with five fumbles, two lost, in the first half the defense dominated the Indians.’
      • ‘The former Summerhill College student then played the ball across to the unmarked Kevin Lowe, but the former Carrick Town player fumbled his shot and put it well wide.’
      • ‘He threw two interceptions vs. Denver and lost a fumble after simply dropping the ball while running.’
    2. 1.2 (in other ball games) an act of failing to catch or field the ball cleanly.
      • ‘Saxton had been guilty of a bad fumble early in the half but it seemed to spur him on and he showed good strength to power his way over after cutting back in from the right.’
      • ‘Worst of all, Burress did the same thing just two years ago and on that play, the officials ruled the ball a fumble.’
      • ‘Former defensive end Bob Dee recovered a fumble in the endzone in the Patriots' first preseason game on July 30, 1960.’
      • ‘Culpepper made two critical mistakes - a fumble on the goal line and, to a lesser extent, the game-ending interception.’
      • ‘Months earlier, in the preseason, Barton intercepted two passes and returned a fumble for a score - all in one quarter - against Arizona.’
      • ‘By now you know all the terminology, but you don't know if a bouncing ball is a fumble until you watch it on replay from five different angles.’
      • ‘On the next play, special teams got into the act, forcing a fumble by John Simon and setting up a field goal for a seven-point lead at the half.’
      • ‘Three starters return from last year's unit that was the worst in the league - its highlight coming when an offensive lineman picked up a fumble and scored in an upset victory over Missouri.’
      • ‘He registered eight tackles, had two sacks, recovered a fumble and blocked a field goal - all despite being blocked most of the game by a tackle and tight end.’
      • ‘So when he spiked it was a live ball - a fumble - grabbed by Jax and returned almost to the Steelers' goal line.’
      • ‘And the ref is ‘part of the field,’ which makes this a - fumble!’
      • ‘He opened the scoring with a penalty and made the most of a firth fumble to race 80 metres up field, and add the conversion.’
      • ‘Tennessee had just recovered a fumble at midfield late in the third quarter of its playoff game against the Patriots.’
      • ‘The Cobbydale side took the late after 17 minutes when matt Bowness pounced on a fumble from the full back and John Williams added the conversion.’
      • ‘He stripped the ball from Bulger and caught the fumble for a touchdown to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the St. Louis Rams 34-17.’
      • ‘In two preseason games, he returned a fumble for a touchdown (before a penalty nullified the play), and he blocked a punt for a safety.’
      • ‘A scramble from a corner and a fumble by Jones almost conceded a second goal to the visitors as Ilkley found it difficult to cope with the commitment and determination of the Stanley players.’
      • ‘He registered two sacks, blocked a field goal and recovered a fumble.’
      • ‘They tell Suggs that he better pitch the ball back if he recovers a fumble or intercepts a pass, but he doesn't seem to listen.’
      • ‘An alert Jaguars defensive player scooped up the ball and returned the fumble 43 yards.’
      slip, miss, drop, mishandling
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    3. 1.3 An act of managing or dealing with something clumsily.
      ‘we are not talking about subtle errors of judgment, but major fumbles’
      • ‘I made a major fumble last night in modifying the journal files and creating a new one for the day's new entry.’


Late Middle English: from Low German fommeln or Dutch fommelen.